For the George Mason Patriots, the 2017 season will start against a team that is the exact opposite of them in one aspect of the game.
Hailing from Dave Paulsen‘s old stopping grounds, the Lafayette Leopards head to Fairfax to represent the Patriot League. During their 2016-17 campaign, they finished with a 9-21 record (5-13 in conference) and are projected to finish last in the conference based on the Patriot League Preseason Coaches Poll.
But that is not where the teams are so vastly different. This year the Leopards return four of their five starters and their top three bench players. Their starting line-up will likely consist of two seniors, a junior, and two sophomores.
For George Mason there are no seniors on the team and four scholarship freshman where one will likely be starting on Friday night. In total, there are only four returners.
This will be a trend throughout the season for the Patriots. Experience will be where George Mason is outmatched, even with three starters returning. The freshmen will have to rise up and juniors Jaire Grayer and Otis Livingston II will be the primary ball handlers.
Additionally the Green and Gold will instantly be tested in a position they struggled last season and will, in all likely-hood, struggle again this season. The post. Mason has one traditional post player in freshman Greg Calixte, and he will be going up against the best player on the opposite side of the floor. Forward Matt Klinewski is coming off of a 2017 All-Patriot League 3rd Team performance where he averaged 16.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg, both leading the team.
Even with Calixte, it is not guaranteed he will be starting as other freshmen Goanar Mar and A.J. Wilson will likely be rotated into that spot as well. With the flexibility of the 6-8 Klinewski, it is a more favorable match-up for Mar in the post.
Other than the post match-up, the Patriots are the superior team. Guard play will be dominated by Mason. Grayer’s (11.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg in 2016-17) development from last season will be fun to watch early-on. Toward the end of the season, he constantly crashed the boards and was not afraid to take it to the basket. While his finish might not be as crisp as Marquise Moore‘s, he makes up for that in jump shooting ability.
Hopefully, freshman guard Javon Greene will get some meaningful minutes in preparation for the run Mason is about to go on. Over the next twelve days, the Patriots will play six contests. The last thing George Mason needs is Grayer and Livingston (13.7 ppg, 3.0 apg) playing 35+ minutes to start the year.
Here are three things to watch for in the home opener:
- Rotation; how will Paulsen manage only eight scholarship players with such a fast start to the year.
- Post presence; there are no returning players down low for Mason, it will all be down to the freshmen to hold the fort
- Otis; with Moore gone it will now be Livingston’s team to bring the ball up the court for, can he handle the pressure early on?
When starting the season at home, the Patriots at 18-7. This marks the eighth straight year Mason has started at home, but they have dropped the home opener last three seasons.
Do not overlook Lafayette though. They are only two years removed from an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
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Jaire Grayer (102) is five 3pters behind Sherrod Wright for 14th all-time.
Otis Livingston II (91) is one 3pters away from tying Nate Langley for 19th all-time.
Prediction: Mason 72, Lafayette 59
Prediction Record: 0-0